Designing and Developing Decision Support Systems

The business intelligence tools or decision support systems aid decision making in an organization. An effective DSS provides you with unbiased data analysis, real time monitoring and rich reporting, supporting you make an informed decision in the least possible time span. A meticulously designed DSS makes use of analytical models, various statistical and econometric tools and of course, human intelligence and insights to support decision making.

This proves the importance of technology, methodology and approach behind designing and development of a decision support system. As a decision maker, you need to be extremely careful in selecting the DSS technology and developmental methodology. You need to get the basics right, in order to get a reliable tool to support diverse information and decision-making needs.

Because designing and development of a decision support system is a complex process, you may face a number of issues, such as:

  1. Mismatch between the perspectives of the programmer and decision maker

    Decision makers, on one hand, have very little knowledge about what it takes to design and develop a decision support system. On the other hand, a programmer or developer may not have a fair idea of how complex business decision making has become in today’s highly turbulent times. Technology selection may seem puzzling and ambiguous to decision maker while the preferences, needs and expectations of a decision maker may not fit the process of system design and development. This mismatch between perspectives leads to complexities. But at the same time, this increases the likelihood of creation of an effective and apt DSS.

  2. Identification of specific requirements

    Most of the times, even decision makers have no clue about what to expect from a decision support system. This is especially the case when managers need a tool to aid in resolving ill-structured or unstructured problems. It is easy to decide what functionality a DSS must possess when problems are routine and structured. Managers can seek help from their team members and conduct brainstorming sessions, in order to chart out the functions and benefits of a decision support system.

  3. Technology selection

    In today’s highly competitive business environment, you need an interactive and responsive decision support system that maximizes your performance. In such a scenario, the selection of technology plays a crucial role. However, it’s not always necessary to use the latest version of a particular platform. It completely depends on the objectives you wish to achieve. However, a DSS development company may push you for the latest technology, which will certainly add to your expenses. The rule of thumb is to ask for price quotes from different companies.

  4. Approach to software design and development

    As said earlier, there is no standard approach or methodology to design the best decision support system. There are three main approaches to system design and development: 1) the traditional system development life cycle (SDLC) approach; 2) rapid prototyping and 3) end-user approach. You may want to choose a methodology that ensures that the final product accomplishes your objectives. But each approach has its pros and cons, making it difficult to choose the best one.

Most of these issues can be resolved by:

  • Identifying clear agendas
  • Brainstorming with team members
  • Communicating the expectations clearly to the programmers
  • Educating yourself about various technologies used in DSS development
  • Trying to reach at a common platform with the developers

Pre-Design Diagnosis and Feasibility Study

How to secure the right DSS developmental methodology? Well, a pre-design diagnosis of a decision making process and feasibility study of a DSS concept can help you gain clarity. Diagnosis and feasibility testing are two different processes but are intertwined. Depending upon how decisions are made in an organization, a programmer carries out the feasibility testing of the idea on which a DSS is to be developed.

Diagnosis of a Decision Making Process

A diagnostic study of decision making process in an organization helps gain clarity on:

  • Problem identification process
  • Data collection techniques
  • How decisions are made
  • Who all are involved in decision making
  • Norms pertaining to decision making in an organization

The study involves:

  • Defining the types of decisions
  • Charting out the formal decision making process basis observation
  • Identifying the primary role of decision maker
  • Interviewing decision makers
  • Assessing the effectiveness of data collection techniques
  • Evaluating the performance of decision making process
  • Need for computerized aid to support these decisions
  • Identifying what needs to be improved
  • Determining what will remain unchanged

A diagnostic study of decision making proves to be very useful to assess the overall process. It helps in redesigning the decision making process and charting out the objectives, functionality and expectations from a decision support system.

Feasibility Study

Testing the decisional, economical and technological feasibility of a proposed decision support system succeeds the diagnostic study of a decision making process. The feasibility study aims to:

  • Uncover viability or achievability of a proposed DSS
  • Discover the target users of a proposed decision support system software
  • Identify opportunities and threats to a proposed DSS
  • Determine if a proposed DSS with desired features falls within the budget of the organization
  • Determine the technologies that can possible be used to develop a DSS
  • Measure how well a proposed DSS will be able to solve problems
  • Identify time available to build the system
  • Uncover the amount of resources required to build the system
  • Identify the limitations and risks associated with the proposed system

Both decision maker and programmer attain clarity on whether to go ahead with the system development or not, once these factors are assessed.

Choosing a System Development Approach

As mentioned above, choosing a system development approach is an underlying issue. This is because there is no single process that can be termed as ‘best’. What development approach you choose depends upon the results of feasibility study and a mutual agreement between decision maker and programmer.

However, you will need to choose a developmental approach only when you decide to make a custom decision support system. If you decide to buy a packaged solution, you simply consult the expert, choose a suitable software system and implement it. It is less expensive than making a support system.

But if you’re not convinced with the functionality of a packaged solution, it’s ideal to make it and equip with all the functions and features that you need. Here are three approaches to system development that you may want to learn about:

  1. SDLC - System Development Life Cycle Approach

    The formal SDLC is a sequential process which begins with identifying the system objectives (needs of end users) and goes through various stages, including

    • System analysis (technical components required)
    • System design (architecture)
    • Coding (programming)
    • Testing (errors and bug fixing)
    • Implementation (execution in the organization)
    • Use (end users employing DSS)
    • Evaluation (verification of functions and capabilities)
    • Modification (adjustments required)

    It’s the most commonly used and most rigid system development approach. In complex situations, it becomes difficult to use this approach, as the requirements of users are constantly changing. It doesn’t promote recurring development and testing.

  2. Rapid Prototyping Approach

    As the name suggests, rapid prototyping is a method that promotes faster system development. Moreover, it’s combined effort of decision maker and analyst. A DSS analyst works closely with a decision maker, to chart out specific requirements. Though a decision maker uses general terms, the analyst uses DMS (database management system) to support rapid development of the application.

    Rapid prototyping goes through:

    • Identifying objectives/ user requirements
    • Developing the first model
    • Evaluating the first model, identifying adjustments required and modification
    • Testing the developed DSS. Go back to evaluation and modification, if needed
    • Implementing

    As the communication lines are always open, evaluation and modification happen at a rapid pace. This is why it’s considered a better approach than SDLC in complex situations.

  3. End-User DSS Development Approach

    End-user DSS development approach promotes the designing and development of a software system depending upon the specific or individual needs of a decision maker. It’s like customizing your laptop. As managers make extensive use of various applications, they may want a system that integrates all the functions that they need.

    The plus side of this approach is that a decision maker makes his DSS on his own. The negative side is that he or she may end up choosing the inappropriate software. Moreover, they may make mistakes unknowingly when developing a decision support system because of the lack of technical expertise. This approach is very rarely used.

DSS Project Management

Project management is an additional overhead. It’s a common belief. No one understands the importance of project management until they get punched in their face. The entire process, beginning from DSS conceptualization, development and implementation needs to be closely overseen, in order to:

  • Reduce chaos
  • Manage risk
  • Supervise project development
  • Administer quality
  • Manage smooth integration of newly developed DSS with business processes
  • Identify training requirements of staff
  • Manage change

Projects are chaotic in nature. And when technology is involved, chaos quadruples. The process becomes further complex when ‘change’ is included. Generally, employees resist change. They fear technology. As a business, you must hire a DSS project manager, in order to carry out the whole process as smoothly and hassle-free as possible.

DSS Project Participation

A decision support system development is a comprehensive project that requires diverse skills and capabilities. Therefore, it’s essential to bring together the right talent from the fields of technology, management, finance, project management, analytics and potential users and ensure active participation of team members.

Remember you can’t ride on the expertise of programmers alone. It’s a combined effort and requires active participation of everyone involved in project development. The team typically includes sponsor, financial executives, DSS analyst, programmer, technical support professional and decision-maker/end-user.

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